Contribution of citrulline ureidase to Francisella tularensis strain Schu S4 pathogenesis

J Bacteriol. 2009 Aug;191(15):4798-806. doi: 10.1128/JB.00212-09. Epub 2009 Jun 5.


The citrulline ureidase (CTU) activity has been shown to be associated with highly virulent Francisella tularensis strains, including Schu S4, while it is absent in avirulent or less virulent strains. A definitive role of the ctu gene in virulence and pathogenesis of F. tularensis Schu S4 has not been assessed; thus, an understanding of the significance of this phenotype is long overdue. CTU is a carbon-nitrogen hydrolase encoded by the citrulline ureidase (ctu) gene (FTT0435) on the F. tularensis Schu S4 genome. In the present study, we evaluated the contribution of the ctu gene in the virulence of category A agent F. tularensis Schu S4 by generating a nonpolar deletion mutant, the Deltactu mutant. The deletion of the ctu gene resulted in loss of CTU activity, which was restored by transcomplementing the ctu gene. The Deltactu mutant did not exhibit any growth defect under acellular growth conditions; however, it was impaired for intramacrophage growth in resting as well as gamma interferon-stimulated macrophages. The Deltactu mutant was further tested for its virulence attributes in a mouse model of respiratory tularemia. Mice infected intranasally with the Deltactu mutant showed significantly reduced bacterial burden in the lungs, liver, and spleen compared to wild-type (WT) Schu S4-infected mice. The reduced bacterial burden in mice infected with the Deltactu mutant was also associated with significantly lower histopathological scores in the lungs. Mice infected with the Deltactu mutant succumbed to infection, but they survived longer and showed significantly extended median time to death compared to that shown by WT Schu S4-infected mice. To conclude, this study demonstrates that ctu contributes to intracellular survival, in vivo growth, and pathogenesis. However, ctu is not an absolute requirement for the virulence of F. tularensis Schu S4 in mice.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Bacterial Proteins / physiology*
  • Cell Line
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Citrulline / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Francisella tularensis / enzymology*
  • Francisella tularensis / genetics
  • Francisella tularensis / growth & development
  • Francisella tularensis / pathogenicity*
  • Genetic Complementation Test
  • Lung / microbiology
  • Macrophages / microbiology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Sequence Deletion
  • Urease / genetics
  • Urease / metabolism
  • Urease / physiology*
  • Virulence / genetics*


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Citrulline
  • Urease